Both Notre Dame and Baylor are heavy favorites to return to the Final Four (Photo by Kelly Kline)
Both Notre Dame and Baylor are heavy favorites to return to the Final Four (Photo by Kelly Kline)

Final Four favorites are teams we love to hate

Editor
March 21, 2013 - 12:45pm

Let’s start with an alphabetical quiz: What do the following stand for? ABB, ABC, ABND.

If the coffee has kicked in, you might have realized that ABB equals

Anybody but Baylor: The haters are out there, but there are a lot of fans who just want to see an underdog derail the Waco Express. After all, the Bears went 40-0 last year, and have only lost once this season and of course have Brittney Griner, the most dominant player in the history of the women’s game.

Add fiery and fashion-challenged coach Kim Mulkey to the mix, and you have a team people will find it very easy to root against – especially since Baylor is the overwhelming favorite to win it all.

ABC, then, is obviously

Anybody but Connecticut: The Huskies may not be able to beat Notre Dame, but as long as Geno Auriemma patrols the sidelines, a lot of women’s basketball fans are going to reflexively start cheering for whoever’s on the other side of the scorer’s table.

The not-exactly-lovable Auriemma is a great coach, no doubt, and his players may be wonderful young women, but a lot of people will be very happy if UConn somehow stumbles on the way to the Final Four.

ABND?

Anybody but Notre Dame: Sure, a lot of folks love the Irish, but you’d be surprised at how many hope the Golden Domers lose every game they play in every sport. Arrogance is bred in the bone in South Bend, and though Muffet McGraw is not nearly as divisive as Mulkey or Auriemma, and Skylar Diggins is a twitter goddess, Notre Dame is another team whose early departure from the tournament would make many people happy.

The other number one seed is Stanford, and though there’s plenty of arrogance emanating from Northern California, the Cardinal don’t get shoved down the nation’s throat by ESPN often enough to really get a good hate going, and besides, they don’t really appear to have enough weapons to go all the way.

No. 2 seeds Duke and Tennessee are also hardly popular with fans who have had to bear the brunt of their wins and yes, that word again, arrogance, over the years. Cal and Kentucky are less objectionable, but on the other hand, their bandwagons are unlikely to get crowded even if they do get to New Orleans.

ESPN, of course, will be desperately searching for story lines throughout the run of the tournament, and should a Cinderella emerge, she will become a SportsCenter darling. The ideal team would be someone like Delaware, with an elite player (Elena Delle Donne, if you haven’t been paying attention) but still an underdog, though maybe a Colorado would do in a pinch.

In the end, though, pretty much everyone will be surprised – and their brackets busted – if three of the four No. 1 seeds don’t make the Final Four, and the very likely Baylor-UConn/Notre Dame final could be one of those games where a lot of fans want both teams to lose.

Appealing as that might be, it just can’t happen, and the odds of ABB, ABC or ABND winning the title are, very low.

SEC Tournament Champion Texas A&M is a potential dark horse in to make it to the Final Four. (Photo by Kelly Kline)

A pair of No. 3 seeds are lurking in the bottom halves of their brackets, and may in fact have a better chance of getting to New Orleans than the No. 2 seeds.

The first would be Texas A&M, in the Norfolk Region with Notre Dame, and Penn State, in the Spokane Region with Stanford.  A&M won the SEC Tournament, which isn’t quite as impressive as it sounds, but the Aggies match up well with the Irish, and if they get past Duke (which will struggle without Chelsea Gray), could knock off Notre Dame.  Plus, if it gets that far, the Aggies may be the only team in the nation with a post player (Kelsey Bone) who could legitimately guard Brittney Griner.  Remember, it was Texas A&M that came out of nowhere in 2011 with "big" Danielle Adams to knock off Baylor in the Elite Eight and go on to win the National Championship.  Gary Blair has a completely new squad, but he knows how to get there.

Penn State and the Big Ten get little respect (and many would say for good reason), but the Nittany Lions should be good enough to beat home-standing LSU, and then would have a very good chance to eliminate jump-shot-challenged No. 2-seed California. Stanford, without Toni Kokenis, is simply not the Cardinal of yesteryear, and it would really be no surprise if they didn’t even make the Elite Eight.

* * * * *

As is almost always the case, the best chance for a double-digit seed to go deep into the tournament belongs to Gonzaga. The Bulldogs host the first two rounds, and presumably for reasons of keeping them in Spokane, were seriously under-seeded at No. 12. Iowa State and Georgia, the four and five seeds, are far from invulnerable, and a rocking arena and a stout defense could move the Zags on to the Sweet 16.

And you know, if they get there, they’re still playing in Spokane, and they would likely play Stanford, a team they’re very familiar with, and a team that relies heavily on one player (Chiney Ogwumike) for offense.

That said, this year’s Bulldogs aren’t quite up to the standard of the Courtney Vandersloot teams, but they’re still awfully good – and they’re still playing in front of thousands of rabid fans.

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